What is Wellness for Work?
Wellness is a many-sided thing, defined as being in good health both mentally and physically. The Substance and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has described 8 dimensions of wellness. This list includes emotional, physical, environmental, financial, and social wellness. One of the eight dimensions, Occupational Wellness, is defined by SAMHSA as “personal satisfaction and enrichment from one’s work.” The inclusion of Occupational, or work, wellness shows the importance of considering wellness when Thinking About, Choosing, Getting, and Keeping, or even leaving, work.
Wellness is many things to many people. Wellness can mean eating right: eating in a way that feeds your body the fuel it needs to be able to do your job, feel good, and have the stamina to get through the day. Wellness can mean exercising, or moving, or building muscle so that your body has the strength it needs as you work and live your life. Wellness can be spiritual and include the ways that you feed your soul. Wellness can also be intellectual, or include the ways in which we nourish our minds, through learning, discussing ideas, or creating art. All of these ways of being well can have an impact on work.
Working requires us to feel well, to be able to be active for at least as long as the workday, and to also have a life outside of the workplace. This means that we need to physically be well, but also to have other kinds of wellness too. We don’t have to do all this alone! Consider strengthening your wellness with supporters who you trust, who are also working on their own wellness. This way, they can offer you a different perspective on your recovery from their lived experience. These might be people you have in your life, and/or Peer Support Specialists who can support wellness. There are even special training in Wellness Coaching for peer supporters who want to help support wellness.
There are also a variety of approaches to health and wellness. Medical interventions are often used to enhance health, but there are complementary approaches as well. If you are considering a complementary approach to wellness take care to do your research and consider what is safe and what is best for you. The National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has a website that can help you think through which alternative or complementary approaches to health make the most sense for you.
Below are a few links to resources that may be helpful when thinking about wellness and working:
- Voices of Recovery (McNamara, 2009) and The Experience of Recovery (Spaniol and Koehler, 1994), involve collections of recovery stories by people who have experienced a mental health diagnosis
- The Recovery Workbook: Practical Coping and Empowerment Strategies for People with Psychiatric Disabilities, Revised edition (Spaniol, Koehler, & Hutchinson, 2000) and The Recovery Workbook 2: Connectedness (Spaniol et. al., 2003), both designed to support mental health recovery.
- Food Education for People with Serious Psychiatric Disabilities (Books, 2009).
- Exercise Videos from the University of Illinois at Chicago (see right side of page), are easy to follow, and involve simple movements.
How do I keep my wellness while working?
Maintaining your wellness at work can take some work! Work can be meaningful, fun, and interesting. Work can also bring stresses. Developing resilience to those stresses, and some stress hardiness (Maddi, et al., 2013) will be helpful as you work. There are lots of ways that people keep their wellness while working. You may want to experiment and see which strategies work best for you.
The Copeland Center and colleagues at the Appalachian Consulting Group have created a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) for Work, and provides a way for people to add to their personal WRAP Plan by thinking through and documenting elements of what things are like when you are feeling good at work, how you can keep work going well (maintenance), identify triggers and warning signs that things aren’t going as well, know and manage when things are starting to break down, and recovering from the crisis and learning from the experience. Working through the questions and prompts in a WRAP for Work may help some people think through how to stay well at work, and how to manage if things get harder, or even very difficult to manage at work.
Part of maintaining wellness at work is thinking through how to keep up your healthy habits while adding in a new life activity like working. When adding in new, and potentially stressful activities, people and places, it may be important to keep doing the things that keep us well, and to add some more (Copeland Center). Remember, our stress may be going up, not down, so don’t reduce your wellness strategies, increase them if you can. For people who are working in shifts, maintaining wellness can be challenging, but not impossible. There are different challenges for people trying to maintain wellness in office settings. But wellness isn’t only up to you – your workplace may be unhealthy, or may need a wellness program.
What makes a workplace conducive to wellness?
Wellness at work is not only on you. There are many things that can contribute to your wellness at work. Mental Health America (MHA) describes 10 signs of a healthy workplace, or a workplace that supports wellness, as one that includes things like good communication, productivity, accountability of both staff and management, a livable wage, even fitness.
It makes business sense for businesses to consider and promote the health of their employees. There are resources available for businesses to increase their capacity to support the health and wellness of their employees. In addition, providers can help you maintain your wellness while you are working. You might ask for or help promote a health fair for people in recovery who want to improve their health and wellness.
Below are some other resources:
- Wellness Strategies: SAMHSA/HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions (Note: many of the the above links are drawn from this comprehensive resource list)
- Don’t Be A Work Martyr: A LinkedIn Pulse article on taking vacation time.
- Vocational Illness Management and Recovery (VIMR): A practitioner-led curriculum that can support people to manage their illness and wellness while working.